This is the long list of 14 possible workshops, in detail — your votes decide which 5 of these workshops will run this summer. They're divided into 9 old favourites and 5 new workshops.
Playful challenging activities based on top research to create new ideas and explore the creative process
Creativity can feel magical and maddening: sometimes it all just sometimes it's like getting blood from a stone, and who knows why, or what to do about it? And what do you do when your creative well runs dry? Using creative activities and writing prompts, we'll explore some of the key aspects of the creative process: the different kinds of thinking we need; process versus product driven approaches; increasing your reservoirs of inspiration; the importance of play; and how to escape your brain's habits and reach for more original ideas. All the activities draw on solid research from neurology, psychology, and adult play: creativity is magic, and this is our spell book. Throughout the day, you'll be generating ideas, playing with different approaches, and writing multiple short pieces, with the opportunity to extend one or more of these at the end. You'll leave with a variety of newly developed story ideas to explore and a deeper understanding of how to support and enjoy your creativity.
Explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters to take home with you
It's an easy mistake to make all your characters too similar, especially the positive characters. When you're creating a "villain", you can gleefully invent all sorts of unusual traits. When you're writing a positive character, you can often end up making them just "normal" - ie not characterised, undifferentiated, or a cast of clones of yourself. This workshop uses a variety of approaches to help you invent characters who are most definitely NOT like you - and more than that, to sympathise with and understand them. You'll invent or develop multiple new characters in the workshop, and also gain insight into some of your own traits, to make sure those aren't replicated across all your future characters.
Writing with fresh angles, new voices, unusual points of view, experimental structures and different styles
In writing, it's easy to rest on what we're already good at and what we've done before, and define ourselves as "that kind" of writer. But this can mean we pull back from ideas or scenes that take us beyond that, which limits our stories. To expand our repertoires, we need a safe space of freedom to experiment with new approaches. In this workshop, we explore fresh angles in four main areas: new voices, unusual points of view, experimental structures, and different styles. We'll look at examples of published work, from literary fiction to genre novels, to see how it can be used and to inspire you. You'll also try out the different approaches with creative activities, using either your own work in progress or ideas created in the class. You'll leave with multiple short pieces of new writing, new ideas for stories or for your existing story, and a widened range of possibilites to draw on.
Everything from developing your characters’ voices and natural speech to layout and seamless attribution
Dialogue plays a central role in making a story come alive: it creates immediacy and intimacy, roots the story in real time, and builds strong characterisation, as well as carrying the story forward. This workshop covers multiple aspects of writing dialogue: striking the balance between actual versus "natural" speech; developing characters' voices; balancing both of those with writing snappy or powerful lines; its purpose in the story; common errors to avoid; ways of attributing speech; and the descriptions and actions that go around it. It also covers practical approaches for how to go about the actual writing, and the nuts and bolts of layout and punctuation. You'll leave with several pieces of writing exploring characters' voices (using new characters or ones from your work in progress), new dialogue, useful strategies for the writing process, and a clear grasp of the practicalities.
Explore magical realism’s features, whip up reams of ideas, and start writing your own magical realist pieces
Like fairytales for grown-ups, anything's possible in magical realism. From its Latin American roots to its wider use, magical realism is a uniquely rich, fantastical, and free genre to play in. This workshop introduces the background and principal features of magical realism, through eight novels. We'll then generate masses of ideas, with an extensive, varied (and colourful) menu of activities, and explore settings. In the afternoon, you'll draw on your ideas with a menu of writing activities and start turning one or more of them into more developed magical-realist stories. You'll leave with heaps of ideas, several pieces of writing, 8 new activities for generating multiple ideas, and 6 new activities for whisking ideas into stories - and, of course, a new genre to play with, whether you write within the genre or use its sense of freedom to expand your other writing.
Move your characters and the reader easily in time & place, and deal deftly with exposition and back story
Orientating the reader is one of those invisible skills - if it's done well in a story, you'd never notice it. When it's done badly, you're suddenly flipping backwards in the book looking for a character thinking "Who the hell is this, again...?" Or flicking pages back and forth, trying to work out whether you've jumped in time or are still in the same place. Or counting the lines of dialogue to work out on earth is speaking.
This workshop looks at a range of ways to orientate the reader: reminding them who characters are, reminding them of the core tension of each story strand when you're weaving multiple threads together, moving your characters in time and place so the reader knows when / where they are without long journey descriptions, dealing with flashbacks elegantly, and exposition for back story and the details of your novel's world.
Explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
Scenes are the building blocks of storytelling, where the story comes alive in “real-time” action. This workshop will explore how to stay focused on writing in scenes, integrating action, description, and dialogue, while keeping the story flow and avoiding filler-material. We’ll also look at how to approach the “big” scenes: action scenes, high drama, turning points, and intense emotion.
Explore what makes quality prose, from Angela Carter’s richness to Margaret Atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
Quality prose comes in dozens of different flavours, but shares a surprising number of strengths across the sweep of styles. In this workshop, you’ll explore what you value in good prose and hone your own style. We’ll cover spotting clichés and collocations, using imagery, selecting telling details, improving word choice, and pruning unnecessary words.
Once your first draft is done, what do you do? Practical tips on how to redraft, refine, and edit your story or novel
Knowing the future stages of drafting makes writing your first draft much easier - you can relax into it, not worry about it, tell yourself "I'll fix it later", and you know you will. Taking a short story through the complete process can also shed a lot of light on your novel's process. We'll start by exploring the different stages of writing, to get a good overview, then look at the principles and possible approaches for evaluating your draft, redrafting parts of scenes, and cutting it down. We'll then look at how to edit your own work: ways to do it and specific things to look for, so your work is polished and ready to send out.
This will also be useful if you're currently writing a novel and starting to feel inhibited or struggling a bit – a solid understanding of what happens after your first draft can really disinhibit the first-draft process. Taking a short story through the full process is an excellent practice, and returns you to your novel with renewed insight and freedom. (Note: You don't need a complete first draft to take part in the workshop. You can use part of a draft, or the materials that I provide.)
Discover the importance of a sense of place, explore description in novels, choose engaging locations, and write active description
The feeling of a novel's place is one of the things that with us most strongly, and most novels are actually about 50% description, if you count it all up, but writing description is something many people struggle with. Unlike other kinds of writing (dialogue, action, exposition) it's something we rarely do in the rest of life, so we don't develop the skill. But if you want your story to come to life in the reader's mind, description is what does that.
Try out new points of view and unexpected new voices to tell your story
Who’s telling the story? What do they sound like? How much do they know? And can they be trusted? In this workshop, you’ll explore the options for narrative voice and point of view, including first person, third person, omniscient voice, and shifting points of view. You’ll also look at character voice versus authorial voice, using a distinctive narrative voice, and unreliable narrators.
Using tropes and archetypes effectively, avoiding cliché, and the fun of subversion
Tropes and archetypes come from our shared human experience, and from our shared story experience; they can give a story spine-tingling impact – or fall flat. In this workshop, we’ll explore when tropes and archetypes resonate and thrill, when they become eye-rolling cliché, when they’re handy shortcuts in your toolbox, and how to use them effectively. We’ll also look at how changing fashions and awareness affects how we see tropes, and how to play with and subvert them.
How to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
What keeps the reader hungrily turning each page? Whether we’re writing quiet literary fiction or pot-boiler thrillers, we want to keep the reader reading – and the principles of how to do that work across genres. In this workshop, you’ll look at how to create and sustain high tension, from tricks of the trade and techniques to gripping the reader at a deeper level.
How to present your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, write synopses and cover letters, and get published
If you want to get published, don't let your writing live in your hard drive gathering virtual dust - send it out. The first short story I had published was one I'd written 10 years before. So why didn't I send it out? I didn't know if it was good enough - but that's the editor's call, not mine. I didn't know I was "allowed" - well, I'm here to tell you that you ARE allowed. And I didn't know how. So that's what we'll cover.
Getting your writing ready and submitting it for publication can feel scary, but it's really just a question of admin. Once your writing is polished (that's the workshop on Beyond First Draft), you need to give yourself the best chance and make the editor's or agent's life easy. We'll look at getting feedback from beta-readers (and how to cope with that!), professional layout for fiction, how to find places to send your writing (markets for short stories; finding agents for novels), how to follow submission guidelines, and how to write a synopsis and a good cover letter.
Summer Saturdays, 10am – 4pm
Upper Wolvercote (North Oxford). There's free parking, a great bus route (#6), and beautiful canal-side walking routes.
The workshops start at £60 each; the more you book, the less you pay per workshop.
1 workshop £70 each
2 workshops £65 each
3+ workshops £60 each
Email me with any questions.
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